A host of changes to the federal financial aid application process implemented by the Obama administration in recent months has made the process prohibitively complicated for poor American families who have limited technological proficiency.
Many applicants have been flummoxed by a retrieval scheme for forgotten passwords, which asks for weird information (e.g., “Type a significant date in your life”) and gets tricky if you make any typing errors.
Email confirmations sometimes take 24 hours to reach applicants. Sometimes, the confirmations never reach applicants at all. Also, the simple act of changing a password can require a 30-minute wait for some reason.
The concept of requiring an email account is itself problematic. High school students can lose access to their school addresses. Some parents don’t have email addresses and feel uncomfortable around computers. Many American high schools won’t let students use personal email accounts on campus. This rule becomes a problem when, for example, schools hold FAFSA sign-up events.
When frustrated parents and students attempt to call a federal-government telephone number for help, they face waits of several hours.
“We are getting more complaints on this issue from our members than we’ve ever gotten on anything,” Elizabeth Morgan, a spokeswoman for the National College Access Network, told Inside Higher Ed.
The Department of Education “needs to do something to address this problem now in this FAFSA season,” Morgan also said. “The lack of urgency around this problem is staggering.”
The National College Access Network is a nonprofit organization that exists primarily to help poor and first-generation American kids succeed in college.
An unidentified U.S. Department of Education representative refused to admit that there have been any complaints about the new, red tape-filled process. The bureaucrat did acknowledge that there have been lots and lots of “inquiries,” though.
“The increased security of the federal student aid ID makes it more difficult to create and use someone else’s federal student aid ID,” the federal spokesperson told Inside Higher Ed via email. “This change is one of the largest drivers of inquiries.”
Prior to the Obama administration’s meddling, the federal government required a simple four-digit PIN — just like an ATM — for parents and students to access their own financial aid information.
Mark Kantrowitz, a well-known financial aid analyst who is decidedly proficient with technology, noted that the added difficulty in the FAFSA application process will thwart the hopes and dreams of poor kids and their parents.
“Every additional barrier you erect between them and financial aid makes it more likely they will drop out of the process,” Kantrowitz told Inside Higher Ed.